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When Kevin Parker talks about The Slow Rush— the first Tame Impala album in five years, and possibly the most anticipated indie-rock record of 2020, due out on February 14 — he seems to always return to the same two-word phrase: F*ck it.
The 34-year-old multi-instrumentalist and electro-psych studio wunderkind, who writes and records every note of Tame Impala’s music by himself, knows that he’s a perfectionist who famously labors over his albums. In the case of The Slow Rush, Tame Impala’s fourth LP, Parker spent many more months fine-tuning than originally planned, throwing off a promotional cycle that appeared to begin in earnest back in March of 2019, when he performed on Saturday Night Live before headlining two weekends at Coachella. (In that regard, the title of the album seems like a sly gesture of self-deprecation.)
But looking ahead, he wants to live more in the moment creatively, and apply that F*ck it energy to not being quite so deliberative. In a recent interview with Billboard, Parker suggested that this might mean more collaborations with other artists, especially in the mainstream pop world. But when I reached Parker last week in his native Perth, Australia, he also insisted that he will be more prolific with Tame Impala albums as well.
“One thing I know for sure is that I won’t take five years next time,” he said.
While Parker is striving to leave well enough alone in the pursuit of music that feels a little more spontaneous, he also is taking a F*ck it approach to Tame Impala’s own legacy and, perhaps, the expectations of fans. The Slow Rush by no means is an abrupt or abrasive left turn — the album’s infectious tracks evoke the bubblegum pop-R&B of Tame Impala’s previous album, 2015’s Currents, but with a heavier emphasis on spacy, blissed-out soundscapes reminiscent of the band’s 2010 debut, InnerSpeaker, and its acclaimed followup, 2012’s Lonerism. While Currents was an album essentially made on a laptop, The Slow Rush includes the vintage instrumentation — old pianos, rickety drums, spooky synths — that bloomed on early Tame Impala records.
It has, in other words, a little something for everyone who has enjoyed Parker’s previous work: undeniable hooks, a canny mix of retro aesthetics and modern technology, and an unlikely but highly listenable balance of pure pop and subtly sophisticated prog rock. But in Parker’s mind, it’s also a quietly defiant record, delivering neither a pop single as obviously grabby as “The Less I Know The Better” (from Currents), nor a rock riff-monster as swaggering as “Elephant” (from Lonerism). Instead, it revels in the sorts of music-nerd juxtapositions — think Pharrell Williams producing the cheesy-awesome ’70s British AOR band Supertramp — that appeal to nobody as much as they do to Parker.
If old Tame Impala fans end up not liking The Slow Rush, Parker might … actually be happy about that?
“I don’t expect people to be on the journey with me the whole way. I expect people to get on the train and get off the next station,” he said. “It sounds like I don’t care about my fans, but in a way, I’d be slightly disappointed if everyone that liked the first album liked every album after that. It’s one of those things that just has to happen. I think it was Marilyn Manson that said, ‘I don’t make albums for my fans. I make them for a new audience.’”
Almost as surprising as it is to hear Parker quoting Marilyn Manson is the realization that Tame Impala in 2020 is now officially a legacy act. Along with their status as a festival headliner and arena band, this May will mark the 10th anniversary of InnerSpeaker, which appeared to fill Parker with pleased indifference when I brought it up to him.
We then proceeded to talk about every Tame Impala album — his memories about making them, and his opinions about the music in retrospect — in order to put The Slow Rush into context. What follows is an edited version of his comments about Tame Impala’s catalogue.
I was just f*cking screwing around on Instagram this morning, and I saw a comment that was like, “First album was great. Everything else after that was trash.” When I read sh*t like that, it only warms my heart. I don’t know why it warms my heart. I find it kind of stimulating.
For what that album means to my fans, it belongs more to them than it does to me. I almost don’t feel like it’s me that made that. It feels like someone else.
My scope has just widened. Back then, I was terrified of doing anything other than what I knew how to do and what I liked listening to. I guess I wasn’t as brave as I am now. Just by attempting things that I’m not fully confident with, or things that seemingly belong to a different world of music than I’m from. InnerSpeaker was what the previous five years of my musical life had led up to. It was the coming together of everything I’d been doing for five years when I made InnerSpeaker.
I was a shy person. I was shy personally and musically. The fact that everyone thought it was a band is an example of how shy I was musically. I didn’t even want to tell people that I made the whole thing by myself.
I listen to it and I just think it sounds cute because it’s like, “Oh my God. This kid doesn’t know what he’s doing.” But the best kinds of music are like that, right? You’re just like, “This artist doesn’t know what they’re doing,” and that’s what makes music exciting sometimes.
With Lonerism, I don’t know what it was, but I had just this sudden bolt of confidence, and ambition, and boldness. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still proud of InnerSpeaker. It’s one of my babies. But with Lonerism, for whatever reason, I guess I’d just found my calling more so than before. I had this wave of curiosity and boldness. I just felt fearless. There are more pop songs on Lonerism than the first one or anything I’d done before. Even though the sound is totally gnarled and blown out, to me it sounded like Backstreet Boys in some of it, or it sounded like Prince.
Every album’s hard in its own way. Usually, the first half is amazing and new, and I feel on top of the world. Then the second half of making the album is when I feel underneath the world. I feel the world’s weight. Making Lonerism was probably one of the most creatively fertile times of my life. Then, of course, putting it all together, and mixing it, and signing off it, was the hardest. I don’t know why. I guess because I was having so much fun making it. I felt like finishing it had to feel like that as well.
It’s something I’ve only learned after doing four albums — it’s always going to be hard to finish.
Of the three, not including The Slow Rush, it’s the one I can listen to the easiest. It’s the one if — I’m on my own and I’ve got a pair of headphones and I just put the first song on, “Let it Happen” — I’ll probably end up listening to it the whole way through. I say that at the risk of sounding completely self-absorbed, but you know what? F*ck it. I think it’s good for an artist to enjoy listening to their own music.
I just wanted to make a high fidelity album as a way of the pendulum swinging from Lonerism. I was listening to a lot of R&B at that time, really clean, impactful sounds. So I just wanted to make a silky album. I wanted to embrace being a producer more because I started to idolize hip-hop producers and R&B producers more so than artists even sometimes.
I listen to the mixing now, and I’m like, “Ugh! What was that guy doing?” But that’s natural. It just means I’m getting better at mixing. I feel like The Slow Rush is my best-sounding album easily. Maybe my fans will disagree.
The Slow Rush (2020)
I think it would be a stretch, calling it rock music, but that’s really all I can say about it. At the end of the day, genres are genres because of the way they make people feel. Rock music is rock music because it makes people think of rock when they listen to it, not because it has guitars, drums, and bass. Because there’s synth-rock, right? Which is just keyboards and drum machines. So for me to get wrapped up in that … if the Grammys come around and this album gets nominated for Best Rock Album, so be it.
When I was making this one, I had to embody a bit of a Kanye West perspective on it, which is like, it’s finished when it’s finished. Don’t f*cking rush me. No one can rush me. Not the record label, not my fans, not even myself. It’ll be finished when it’s finished — not by the time of Coachella, not by Saturday Night Live. I just had to take on that attitude because if I didn’t, then I’d just get crushed by the weight of it all.
One of the things about the way I make Tame Impala albums is there’s literally no one else involved in it until it gets mastered. There’s no one else they can ask other than me, “How is progress going?” And because I was just lost in my own head, I thought I could finish it in a month. Turns out it took me seven more months. That’s just the kind of delusion that comes with making an album all by yourself, is not knowing where the f*ck you are in the progress of it.
I wanted to try and use things from totally different worlds in the way that a hip-hop producer would. To be almost collage-y. Make a soundscape and build a song from there. When I first started putting “It Might Be Time” together, I was like, “This is going to be unlistenable.” Because I didn’t know if it sounded like Supertramp or The Chemical Brothers or Pharrell Williams. I could hear all those kind of things. At the end, I decided it sounds somewhere in between.
Rhythms have always been something that’s so important to me. I don’t sing rhythmically, but the actual timing of how I sing, I almost consider more important than the melodic aspect. Take a song like “Elephant” — most of the parts are one note. For this album, I just wanted to do that even more, just really concentrate on clever rhythms.
The first song, “One More Year,” is actually in a really weird time signature. It’s in 14/4. I can’t think of any other song that is in that. For example, “Electric Feel” by MGMT is in 6/4, so every bar that should have four beats has six beats. I think that song sounds like a normal kind of disco time signature, but it’s actually not. When I told that to the rest of the guys in the band, that “One More Year” was in 14/4, they were surprised because it sounds like it’s in 4/4. So that’s something I’m proud of.
It’s difficult to put into words, but I know exactly what I want to do. I want to continue the progression of being more fearless and bold. I want to make more music. One thing I know for sure is that I won’t take five years next time. I want to be more liberal with myself creatively because I’m so inspired these days by the idea of just being like, “F*ck it,” and not being precious, and not overthinking things in the way that I probably did early on. InnerSpeaker, I overthought it. Lonerism, I labored over it. I don’t want to labor over music. More and more, that’s becoming a quality of music that I’m allergic to.
The Slow Rush is out on February 14 via Interscope Records. Get it here.